For a while now I've noticed a trend gaining momentum. Seems that more and more people are dropping comments about how the NFC North is arguably the strongest division in the NFC, in the NFL, in the Galaxy, and so on. Now, it is within the realm of possibility that things might heat up in the frigid north this December. Green Bay, or Minnesota, or Chicago might win the division with the other two taking the wild card spots. But then, there are a lot of question marks in this division that make predicting the outcome pretty tough.
Strength of schedule won't be prohibitive, as the NFC North's average SOS is .501 for 2010, which is the 4th lowest of the 8 division. And Chicago and Detroit definitely took steps in the right direction during the off season. But how stable were Minnesota and Green Bay? And did Chicago and Detroit do enough to turn out winning, or in Detroit's case, competitive seasons?
Now, Mr Hayes posted, very boldly I might add, a couple of days ago that he felt Chicago would win the division. I like that prediction. It's actually what prompted me to write this post. As I scanned through the comments, I noticed a lot of members that felt that Green Bay, or Minnesota, was the division favorite. It's not exactly a stretch to pick either one. But the certainty some seem to have that these two teams, especially the hated Packers, are stable kinda took me by surprise.
First, the Bears have made moves to improve this off season. How effective those moves will be is yet to be seen, but the subject has been discussed at length here so, just for the sake of argument, we'll assume that the Bears are 3 games better than they were last year. 10-6. I think that this is a fairly conservative estimate, and not out of the Bears reach at all.
The real question are.......is Minnesota better than they were last year? Is Green Bay better? And how much better did Detroit get. Because those three questions will have a lot to do with the fate of Our Beloved Bears.
If Favre returns, I say Minnesota is in good shape. The Williams Wall is aging, but running and backpedaling to avoid their suspensions is going to help them an awful lot where conditioning is concerned. I don't really see anywhere that the Queens have declined, other than backup RB. And with a full year of experience between Favre and the WRs, the Queens might be better this year. The line isn't as good as it once was, but it's still probably the best OL in the division. BUT.......if Favre doesn't come back, the Queens offense is in trouble, and Childress and the Purple Parade know it. The difference between Brett Favre and Tarvaris Jackson, for the Vikings, is the difference between 1st place ad 3rd place in the NFC North, in my humble opinion.
Green Bay is another story. I thought that the Packers were actually the best team in the division last season.....except for one thing. They had matadors for tackles and the interior line wasn't much better. And boy did it hurt. And what did the Pack do to fix this? They resigned everybody. Sure, they drafted Marshall Newhouse. And Newhouse might help shore up the interior line some. But when the Pack have to face Julius Peppers, Jared Allen or Kyle Vanden Bosch in 6 of it's 16 games (not to mention Izzy!), you would think that Green Bay would have done something to shore up the Tackle situation more than just signing Chris Campbell, an undraft FA out of Eastern Illinois. As much as you can read comments here stating that "as goes the line so goes the season" in reference to the Bears, it surprises me that so many just unquestioningly pick the Pack to win the division. I have my doubts, and they all center on the cheeseheads' offensive line.
And thanks to Hurricanes becoming Bears for pointing out that I, in a wonderfully boneheaded move, glossed right over the Packers 1st round pick......Iowa' Tackle Bryan Bulaga. Bulaga is an impressive specimen, and was a solid pickup by the pack. But current expectations are that he will back up Chad Clifton for now, though a move to guard might be considered. So, will Bulaga make a difference this year? It doesn't appear so, but it's early and things change.
As for Detroit, I think the lowly Lions will be the most improved team in the division this season. I still think they have a couple of seasons to go before challenging for the division is realistic, but I think they are moving in the right direction........finally. 6 or 7 wins would not surprise me in the least. And if Favre decides to spend the regular season on the sofa, then it could be plausible for Detroit could finish 3rd in the division......or they could be Detroit all over again, and win 2 games. Ford does still own that team, after all.
So, lets here from the rest of you. What are your thoughts on the division? We all know anything can happen, but what do you think are the key factors in the season for the NFC North teams?